It’s a long shot, but Jonathan Pinkey hopes to halt demolition of the old pedestrian bridge over the Arkansas River.
Pinkey’s petition — “Don’t Demolish Tulsa’s Pedestrian Bridge (Conduct an Official, Impartial Study)” — had been signed by more than 450 people as of late Tuesday afternoon.
“There is a substantial body of citizens, and it continues to grow, that do not want this bridge torn down. Whether (or not) there is a new bridge, we don’t want to unnecessarily lose this priceless, beloved, shaded, pleasant bridge,” Pinkey said.
The petition comes as Gathering Place officials put the final touches on the design of the Gateway Bridge, which was selected in 2017 to replace the pedestrian bridge after city officials determined it was structurally unsound.
But Pinkey points to city documents on the bridge — done by HNTB — to argue just the opposite.
The 2015 Zink Bridge Rehabilitation Concept Report, Pinkey notes, states that although the weld cracks in the bridge could grow and precipitate collapse, the cracks do not “present an immediate hazard requiring closure of the bridge.”
He also notes that the report offers methods to replace the bridge’s 14 concrete piers while maintaining traffic on the deck above.
“This report clearly indicates it could be fixed, that financially it’s not unthinkable, private donors might be willing to do it,” Pinkey said “... We don’t want a senseless demolition which should not be a foregone conclusion to take place. That’s what we do not want.”
The pedestrian bridge, which crosses the river at approximately 29th Street and Riverside Drive, was constructed in about 1904 by the Midland Valley Railroad. The city gained ownership of the bridge in the mid-1970s and turned it into a pedestrian bridge.
City Engineer Paul Zachary said the city’s initial plan was to rebuild the bridge and make it even better.
“We were going to put the bicyclists up on top where the old rail line was and then reserve the area underneath for pedestrians on the old wood deck,” Zachary said.
But when HNTB’s inspection report came back, Zachary said, the city decided it was a better use of taxpayer dollars to build a new bridge rather than rebuild the old one.
“When it came down to it, if we spent 70 to 80% of the full price for a brand-new bridge on rehabbing this and still having to live with some of the substandard elements, be it traffic patterns, be it trail widths, be it connection points, it made a lot more sense to build a brand-new bridge that we could know exactly what we’ve got and have 75 years life in it,” Zachary said.
HNTB’s Rehabilitation Concept Report, which estimates it would cost between $17.5 million to $19.9 million to rehabilitate the bridge, makes the same point.
At the time the report was issued, the city had approximately $22.5 million allocated for the project, meaning the rehabilitation would have consumed 78% to 88% of available funds.
And the undertaking would have been monumental. Zachery said rehabilitating the pedestrian bridge would not be as simple as fixing weld cracks. Thousands of gussets would have to be replaced, new steel beams installed, piers reinforced, and that’s just for starters.
“It was our desire to use the existing bridge, that’s what our plan was,” Zachary said. “We like the way it looked. It was a neat-looking bridge, but what we had to realize was, if we did rebuild it being the way it was, we would still have a substandard trail width for the pedestrians and not necessarily the (required space) for bicyclists up on top.”
Another factor to keep in mind, Zachary said, is that the Gateway Bridge is designed not only to complement the Gathering Place design but to flow seamlessly into the park’s west entrance. That is not the case for the existing bridge.
Pinkey said there is growing interest in seeking historic preservation funds to save the bridge, even if that means having two pedestrian bridges crossing the river.
“There are a lot of reasons to keep the original,” he said.
For now, however, Gathering Place officials say demolition of the bridge is scheduled for early 2021, with construction of the new $27.4 million bridge expected to be completed by late 2022.